Israeli woman stabbed to death inside West Bank home

Dahriya (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - A Palestinian broke into a West Bank Jewish settlement and stabbed a woman to death in her home Sunday, the Israeli army said, the first such incursion in a months-long wave of violence.

It brought swift and angry reaction from Israel's political elite and was liable to bring calls for harsh action against the Palestinians from Israel's powerful right.

"A terrorist murdered a civilian in her home in the community of Otniel," south of Hebron, a military statement said.

"The attacker broke into the house and stabbed the victim to death. Forces are in pursuit of the terrorist."

An AFP journalist in the nearby Palestinian village of Dahriya said a major manhunt was under way, with army helicopters in the sky and ground forces scouring the area while flares lit up the night sky.

Public radio named the dead woman as Dafna Meir, 38, a hospital nurse and mother of six.

Other media said that her three youngest children were at home when the killing took place but were unharmed.

A paramedic living in Otniel who rushed to the murder scene confirmed there were children there but did not say how many or give their ages.

"We found a woman lying unconscious, not breathing and with no pulse, with stab wounds to her upper body," a statement from the emergency services quoted the man, Chaim Rubin, as saying.

"We made sure that someone took the children into another room."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page of the "brutal murder" of Meir.

"We will find the terrorist, and he will pay the full price for this heinous murder," he said.

President Reuven Rivlin called the head of the Jewish council for the area including Otniel.

"This is a horrific tragedy, and I am with you with all of my heart," Reuven's office quoted him as telling council leader Yochai Damari.

"This is shocking and terrible," he added.

It was the latest bloodshed in more than three months of attacks but the first in the current wave of violence to take place inside a settlement home.

- 'Settle accounts' -

It brought the toll to 24 Israelis and 155 Palestinians killed since October 1.

Many of the Palestinians killed have been attackers, while others have been shot dead by Israeli forces during protests and clashes.

Otniel is located near the city of Hebron in the south of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hebron, where several hundred Israeli settlers live in the city centre among around 200,000 Palestinians, has been a flashpoint in a wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks that began in October.

Israel's government has come under heavy pressure over the spate of attacks, and Sunday's killing was likely to further boost tensions.

"We will not rest until we settle accounts with the terrorist, wherever he is," said Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

"Today's murder at Otniel teaches us yet again what a cruel and relentless enemy we are up against," he said in a statement.

Some analysts say the attacks have been in part driven by frustration with the complete lack of progress in peace efforts, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and their own fractured Palestinian leadership.

Israel says incitement, by Palestinian leaders and news media, has been a main cause of the violence.

International efforts to end it have failed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned in November after holding separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas that the conflict was at a "pivotal point" and could worsen beyond repair unless both sides make rapid compromises.